NEW YORK, March 23 (UPI) -- Jake Gyllenhaal says he has been honored to share the big screen with actor Chris Cooper at three very different stages of his career -- first in 1999's October Sky, then in 2005's Jarhead and most recently in Demolition.
"When I first worked with Chris, when I was 16 years old, he had, obviously, all this technique that he still has, but I didn't have any and had no idea why he was being so aloof and made me feel so awkward and I felt like he didn't care about me at all and then I realized, once we finished shooting, when we became friends, that he had this huge heart and that [distance] was something he was trying to create and cultivate on set," the 35-year-old Los Angeles native told UPI at a roundtable interview with reporters in New York Sunday.
"And then we worked together in the middle -- like six years later -- on this movie Jarhead. And he played a small part in that movie and I kind of was watching again and accumulating my own tools and my own techniques and crafts and then six years after that, seven years after that – I don't know maybe more – we met for this movie and I had all these tools myself. I had a technique and I knew how to make him feel a little aloof and that's actors' expertise, making people feel a aloof, so I learned to do it myself and it was really cool to say: 'Look at my tool belt! I've got some [skills,] too.' And that was a real honor," he continued.
"He's weirdly been a teacher through my whole career without even saying much to me," said Gyllenhaal, whose other distinguished credits include Donnie Darko, The Good Girl, Brokeback Mountain and Nightcrawler.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and written by Bryan Sipe, Demolition casts Gyllenhaal as Davis, an investment banker whose seemingly perfect life is turned upside-down when his wife Julia [played by Heather Lind] dies in a car crash. After making a complaint to a vending-machine company, he ends up finding unlikely connections with customer-service representative Karen [played by Naomi Watts] and her troubled son Chris [played by Judah Lewis,] forcing him to re-evaluate his life and how he has been living it. Cooper plays his father-in-law Phil, a successful businessman who doesn't understand how Davis is dealing with his grief.
So, given his experience of having Cooper as a mentor, did Gyllenhaal feel compelled to offer any guidance to young Judah on the film's set?
"Chris is older than me! Just kidding," Gyllenhaal teased. "I don't know how Chris felt working with me, but I do know that my mandate about working with kids is that you always follow them because they are always closer to the... something. Something more interesting and always something sort of more honest and that's just my rule. And if they don't feel like following you, then that's not the way you go. You follow them. If they feel like following you, then, OK, you're the one to be leading. But my rule is always follow them, so to work with Judah is... I also just worked with this wonderful young actress named Oona Laurence on another movie and to work with kids is my favorite because they really are listening. It's like that Stephen Sondheim [song lyric,] 'Be careful of the things you say, children will listen.' But they will in a scene, also, and it's a sensitive place and it was wonderful to work with Judah. He is charismatic and talented and he is fantastic in the movie."
Cooper was equally complimentary when asked about Gyllenhaal's evolution as an actor over the nearly two decades that he has known him.
"It's like running into a nephew. It kind of feels like that. Who you don't see but every handful of years," the 64-year-old Missouri native told UPI in a separate roundtable. "Gosh, he was 16 when we first worked together on October Sky and I really then got to know his family quite well -- Naomi [Foner Gyllenhaal,] his mom, and his sister [Maggie Gyllenhaal] and his father [Stephen Gyllenhaal.] But Naomi was there as chaperone and we spent a lot of time together and I've spent time at their home in LA and evenings, and then we did Jarhead and he was a young man by then and, by golly, he's a man now. And it's just terrific to work with him. Over these years, he's become a much better actor and lately making very strong choices and very daring in his work."
Demolition opens nationwide April 8.